Honduras | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


President Ricardo Maduro Joest of the center-left National Party of Honduras (PNH) took office on January 27, 2002, after winning the November elections. He defeated conservative Liberal Party (PL) candidate Rafael Pineda Ponce by 8 percent of the vote. The elections were characterized by international observers as mostly free, fair, and peaceful; they were the sixth held since military rule came to an end. On the eve of the election, however, congressional candidate Angel Pacheco, of the PNH, was gunned down outside his house; the police arrested three employees of the PL, indicating that the crime appeared to be politically motivated. Maduro was elected on a "zero tolerance" pledge aimed at ending crime.

In November, after being shamed by international publicity over the murder of nearly 1,300 children in four years, the government announced the formation of a special security force, in addition to the 6,000 new police officers already put on the streets. Killers have been identified in less than 40 percent of these cases. Impunity and corruption, much of it official, still characterize a country Transparency International has identified as one of the most corrupt in the world.

The Republic of Honduras was established in 1839, eighteen years after independence from Spain. It has endured decades of military rule and an intermittently elected government. The last military regime gave way to elected civilian rule in 1982. The constitution provides for a president and a 130-member, unicameral congress elected for four years.

Official corruption and the lingering power of the military have dominated the political scene since the return to democracy. The aftereffects of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country's economy and infrastructure in 1998, continued to be felt. About two-thirds of the country's households live in poverty, and 40 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens are able to change their government through regularly scheduled elections. The 2001 contest was considered generally free and fair. Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, freedom of religion, and the right to form political parties and civic organizations are generally respected, although repressive measures in the face of peaceful protests and mounting crime have limited political rights and civil liberties.

There are constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech and of the press, and the authorities generally respect these rights. There are, however, important exceptions. In 2001 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that the government had impeded public criticism of government actions. Journalists have admitted to self-censorship when they uncover reports that threaten the political or economic interests of media owners. Newspapers circulate freely, and numerous radio and television stations broadcast freely. There are, however, credible reports of repression against journalists. There is free access to the Internet. Academic freedom is generally honored.

The judicial system is weak and open to corruption. Death threats and violent attacks continue against judges who take on human rights cases. Prison conditions are deplorable, and prisoners awaiting trial are housed with convicted inmates; due process is generally not available. There is a generalized lawlessness that has allowed private and vigilante security forces to commit a number of arbitrary and summary executions, including the murder of hundreds of street children. Drug-related corruption is pervasive.

The police are underfunded, ill-trained, understaffed, and highly corrupt. The military controlled the police since 1963, but beginning in 1997 civilian control was reestablished. In the past the military has been used for internal security tasks--suppressing labor unrest, quelling street protests, and combating street crime. Extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention, and torture by the police still take place. More than 120 youth gangs engage in murder, kidnapping, and robbery, as well as drug trafficking. The need to strengthen and professionalize the poorly equipped civilian police is hampered by a lack of public confidence. At the invitation of the government, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions visited Honduras in 2001 and noted evidence of 66 minors killed by police and private security forces from January to June of 2001, and of the government's negligence in investigating or preventing extrajudicial and summary executions.

The military exerts considerable, if waning, influence over the government. A constitutional amendment established a civilian minister of defense in direct control over the armed forces and replaced the armed forces commander in chief with the chief of the joint staff. Congress also passed the Organic Law of the armed forces to solidify civilian control over the military. The Armed Forces made public its budget for the first time in 2001. Most criminal cases against the military remained in military court jurisdiction, and charges were usually dismissed. Since 1999 military personnel have no longer been immune from prosecution in civilian courts. Military officers have been found guilty of drug trafficking, including taking sides in cartel turf wars and protecting drug shipments in transit through Honduras.

Labor unions are well organized and can strike, although labor actions often result in clashes with security forces. Labor leaders and members of religious groups and indigenous-based peasant unions pressing for land rights remain vulnerable to repression and some have been killed. Some 85,000 workers, mostly women, are employed in the low-wage maquiladora (export-processing zones). Child labor is a problem in rural areas and in the informal economy. The government of President Carlos Flores Facusse (1997-2001) made efforts to give the concerns of indigenous and black peoples in Honduras a more prominent place in the public agenda.